Article 3

2022-02-22 Simona Cuomo

Unique or Diverse?

During the third night of the Sanremo Music Festival, Drusilla Foer proposed replacing the word “diversity” with “uniqueness,” a term that many think would be more beneficial to the cause of Diversity Management, that is, the management of diversity of workers in organizations.

However, before replacing one term with another, it is important to reflect on the role that diversity and uniqueness have in the construction of personal identity.

Drusilla Foer’s speech on uniqueness, given on the stage of the Ariston theater during the third night of the Sanremo Music Festival, moved the public:[1] “I don’t like Diversity because it has a comparative element and a distance that doesn’t convince me. When I pronounce it, I always feel like I’m betraying something I think or feel […] A substitute term could be uniqueness, because we are all able to see this in others and we think we are unique.”

In the wake of Drusilla’s speech, it was stressed in many locations, especially on social media, that the word “diversity” has never benefitted the cause of Diversity Management, that is, the management of diversity of workers in organizations; thus, it would be better to speak of “talent” and “merit.”

Both diversity and uniqueness refer to people’s identity. So we want to reflect on the role that diversity and uniqueness have in the construction of identity, before replacing one term with another. Identity defines who we are with respect to who we are not, and this awareness is not constructed in a social vacuum;[2] the development of identity is interdependent with our social experience. We could not be what we are without having lived in a certain culture, had certain connections, lived with certain educational models, and so on. We are unique because we are ourselves, that is, because in our life we follow a personal path and we come to our beliefs after having had experiences that will never be the same as someone else’s. But it is only in comparison with others – who are thus different from us – that we find confirmation or not of who we are. Without this relational behavior that makes us social, we could not be unique and know who we are.

The central thesis of every constructivist conception of social development regards the fact that the development of individual identity takes place in the environment and with the environment. It is above all in interaction with others that the individual is enriched with new and different ways of interacting in the context in which they live. By now, the psychology of development has also shown that the individual, from the first days of life, manages the repertoire of behaviors that allow them to participate in social life. During the course of interactions, even the most precocious ones, the individual learns to differentiate themself and know who they are. Erik Erikson[3] conceptualizes identity in an interdisciplinary way: biological endowment, personal experience, and the social and cultural environment together contribute to giving shape and continuity to the unique existence of each of us. If we were to disparage the term diversity, despite the theories and studies on the subject, we would thus debase the social experience that is decisive for each individual. It is in social experience that we construct the processes of categorization that lead us to having a description of society. These processes of simplification are necessary because the social realm is complex and the cognitive activity of the individual requires a certain degree of simplification in order to interact with the environment. Diversity Management is an approach that helps us interpret categories in work environments, analyzing how a specific identity can rise to the level of a norm (and thus become a point of reference), and how the other, due to difference, can be considered deviant and thus carry a stigma that disadvantages them in a particular environment. So we see that categories can be interpreted in a stereotypical and essentialist way, producing hostile and stigmatizing environments in which belonging to categories becomes the criterion for choice that can generate discriminatory conduct. It is in these contexts that the word diversity assumes negative and penalizing attributes and connotations towards those who are considered different from normal in various aspects of their social identity. So more than change the term, we should learn to use it with care.

[2] C. Taylor, Radici dell’io. La costruzione dell’identità moderna, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1993; A. Oliverio Ferraris, La costruzione dell’identità, Milan, Bollati Boringhieri, 2022.

[3] E. Erikson, Infanzia e società, Rome, Armando Editore, 2008 (1950).